When we think about the military and especially our military veterans we rarely think of them as women. Yet today, 16.8% of our armed forces are women, and it’s increasing every day. Today, there are 1.85 million women veterans among us! These statistics, and much more eye opening information was shared with our club members by Jodie Grenier, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Women Warriors.
Jodie herself served in the 1st Marine Division of the US Marine Corps. She joined the Marines out of high school prior to 9/11. She participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom and was enlisted from 2000-2005. She served as an Intelligence Officer and a Watch Chief over those years, and received the Navy Commendation Medal for her service. She was ultimately promoted to Staff Sergeant. Her re-entry into the civilian world made her realize how difficult that transition can be for many vets, men and women alike.
In California this is a particularly difficult domain because California has 163,000 women vets, second only to Texas. And women face tougher circumstances in many instances because they have a lower median income than males and many live below the poverty line. There is much housing instability so a big need is to provide emergency housing, help with utilities and child care. As Jodie described, “The four biggest issues we deal with during transition, and its increasing every day, are employment, child care, education and housing.” She went on to explain that because women have not been seen as equal partners and given their fewer numbers there aren’t as many peers they can turn to for mentoring and guidance.
So when Jodie took over the organization, she set about to change its name and brand away from “Military Women in Need”, which didn’t “sit well with her”, to its current name. “Our goal is to highlight women’s achievements” she explained. PTSD rates within the veteran population is no greater than across the general population so “it’s important to not generalize a population” she said.
Jodie described her time in the military and it was easy to see her passion, commitment and pride in her military career. After boot camp she went to Intelligence School in Dam Neck, Virginia, then served with her unit, which consisted of 400 men and 3 women, at Camp Pendleton. Some of us on “the outside” might find that a terrifying thought, but Jodie said, “I still did not consider myself different. I became a sister to the men in my unit,” she explained. At the age of 20 she deployed to Iraq where she was responsible for tasking out drones, working under General Mattis. She deployed a second time to Iraq where she worked on analyzing human intelligence (HUMINT).
“My time in the military was fantastic” she exclaimed. She attributed her success to how she was nurtured by her mom, a single mother. Her mom taught her that if you work hard enough you can achieve anything. Her upbringing prepared her for dealing with life today. After she exited the military, she returned to her home in Connecticut but she didn’t have any access to mentoring or assistance in making decisions outside of her very small circle. “World War II Vets came home and built this country,” she said. “Now we come home, we don’t have a college education, no one knows much about what you did in the service and you basically have to start all over, just like new immigrants.”
Jodie also covered a few other topics of interest as well that arise when one considers the issues women may encounter in the military. She explained that sexual assault is not isolated to the military (as evidenced by what has been in the news recently). It is prevalent across society and has to be tackled starting with how we raise our kids. She was not ever assaulted or heckled during her service. “We need to raise up and honor women’s service” she said, “not that of victimhood. We have to talk about them as trailblazers.”
She felt that being part of an all volunteer force was wonderful and when asked if she thought we should bring back the draft she disagreed. “Understand that during the draft, some who don’t want to be there aren’t committed to the cause,” and this can cause a multitude of problems in the unit.
When asked how ordinary civilians on the outside could help, her two main suggestions were to go to women’s military events or volunteer to become a mentor. A mentor can help in a myriad of ways, from mentoring regarding employment in a particular industry to just taking a phone call or meeting to have coffee. And of course, donations are always welcome. To read more about the organization or to volunteer, go to their website.